The Deception of the American Dream in American Beauty
The film, American Beauty, explores the life of a typical American suburban family and the contrasts between appearance and reality in their lives. The American dream is a central theme in the film, as the Burnhams seem to be living it with their rich, and seemingly fulfilling, lifestyles. Fitting in with this ideal lifestyle are the Burnham’s neighbors, all of whom seem normal in their careers and ways of life. However, as the film, progresses the characters are revealed to have deep flaws that set the motion for events that take place later in the film. By exploring the contrasts between appearance and reality, American Beauty exposes the American Dream for the farce that it is.
In American Beauty, Carolyn Burnham is an excellent example of the materialism and false realities that encompass the American Dream. Her outward appearance presents a good wife and mother, who is successful and driven in her career. She seems happy with her life, family and the things she has achieved. This image is shattered in the scene where Carolyn has a mental breakdown after she is unable to sell a house. The cinematography in the scene matches the mood surrounding Carolyn’s breakdown. The lighting is dull and Carolyn is standing in a dark room throughout her breakdown. Additionally, the cheerful music that was playing seconds before the scene is no longer there, as Carolyn’s breakdown occurs in total silence to capture the serious mood surrounding it.
Carolyn’s breakdown exposes the American Dream for what it truly is, a farce. Even though she is wealthy and successful, her reaction to the failed sale shows that Carolyn is not happy with her life and that she might be having some emotional and psychological problems. Other incidents in the film also show how people are struggling with to deal with certain images within their lives. For instance, the Colonel’s kiss with Lester exposes the struggles he is having with his sexuality. That incident also explores the stereotypes that people struggle with in society, such as the Colonel’s compulsion to present himself as a disciplined, heterosexual, tough and morally upright man because of his military background.